-By Ed Kelleher

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Pusher, a debut feature from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, is a stylish but familiar look at a small-time heroin dealer in Copenhagen. Frank, played by Kim Bodnia, who resembles a young Bob Hoskins, is something of an Everyman, a worker ant in the ongoing struggle between pushers and cops in Denmark's capital city.

Frank doesn't ask for trouble, just consistency, as he plies his trade among the local suppliers and users, often accompanied by his skinhead friend Tony (Mads Mikkelsen), who shares his liking for heavy-metal music and Armagnac. Frank's other confidante is his hooker girlfriend Vic (Laura Drasbaek), who provides a safe house for his drugs. It would appear that Frank has a foolproof setup, only everything is about to collapse.

Frank's downfall begins when a heroin deal goes bad and he is busted by the police. Frank is released for lack of evidence, but his supplier, a Croatian named Milo (Zlatko Buric), gives him only two days to come up with a large sum of cash that will save him from a bullet. All at once, Frank's orderly little world is crumbling and nobody seems to care. Even Frank's mother can't summon up much compassion. With Milo's deadline closing in, Vic suggests they head for Spain. 'As long as it's not Sweden or Yugoslavia,' Frank grumbles, but a few surprises are still in store.

Dark as Frank's plight may be, Pusher isn't above some Tarantino-esque humor. Frank and Tony ponder the difference between going out to a movie and renting a video, then debate the appeal of sex with a TV anchorwoman as opposed to a game-show girl. One of the film's ongoing jokes is that no one seems willing to acknowledge who they actually are. 'I think a lot about doing something else,' admits one of Frank's dealer friends, who aspires to opening a shish-kebab restaurant. 'I'm not a whore, I'm a champagne girl,' insists Vic. Even Frank aspires to a loftier level, sipping bottled water and proclaiming himself 'Frank of Denmark.'

Pusher's strength lies in its gritty view of day-to-day life on the drug merry-go-round. The film is even divided into seven segments, each representing a day in Frank's dogged routine. Throughout, cinematographer Morten Søberg's visuals have a crisp documentary look that interlocks nicely with Frank's ongoing decline. Still, the screenplay, credited to Refn and Jens Dahl, offers little insight into what Frank is all about. We witness his ups and downs, but from an emotional distance Pusher rarely attempts to bridge.

--Ed Kelleher

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